Focus

You take care of your body, but what about your brain? Our minds are such amazing–and often automatic–machines that we tend to take them for granted. But just like your body, your brain works better for longer when you “exercise” it regularly. Brain exercises can improve your memory, reasoning skills and mental processing speed. Plus, a regular regimen of brain training can help to stave off the mental decline that often accompanies old age. Learn how to exercise your brain and establish a regular mental fitness routine to keep your mind fit and nimble.

The best brain exercises are the ones that you will actually do, so figure out which mental workouts work for you so that you can have fun with fitness. Challenge, exercise and stimulate your mind on a daily basis for best results.

1. Use your non-dominant hand. Switch things up by using your non-dominant hand for daily activities such as tooth brushing, housecleaning, washing the dog or cooking. The challenge will help create new associations between different neural connections in your brain. You can also put your watch on the other wrist or for a real challenge, try to write and use a fork or spoon with your non-dominant hand.

2. Change your routine. Simply driving to work on a new route, walking the opposite direction around the grocery store that you normally do, or jogging a different path through the park, can wake up your brain and cause it to grow new associations. Indulge in the “new” and “different” whenever possible to keep your mind nimble.

3. Play games. Crossword puzzles and Sudoku are quick, easy and fun ways to challenge your brain – and there are multiple smart phone apps to help you play games on the go. When you find yourself waiting, instead of mindlessly scrolling through your social media feeds, play a quick mental game instead.

4. Embrace another point of view. Are you a die-hard Democrat? Read an article espousing conservative thought. Sports fanatic? Peruse the business section for a while each day instead. We tend to surround ourselves with data that confirms our pre-existing beliefs; expose your brain to unfamiliar information to test your assumptions and grow mentally.

5. Stop and listen. Close your eyes and try to identify every single sound that you can hear, from the whir of the refrigerator and the birds outside to the neighbors talking, music playing or horns honking. This will help improve your audio capacity and still your mind from distraction.

6. Test your memory. When you are running to the grocery store for a few items, try to remember what they are without looking at your list. Use your mind instead of your GPS on short drives, and test your recollection of song lyrics, street addresses and facts before double-checking the information. Work out your memory to make it stronger.

7. Meditate. Even if you just sit down and calm your brain for five minutes a day, establishing a daily routine of meditation can help keep your mind in shape, along with reducing your stress levels. Start small and aim to increase the time you spend each day in small increments.

Image: Nina Matthews